Saturday, 16 May 2009

The Folly of a Young (Smitten) Croydon Boy

We were now introduced to the foxtrot at Jimmy Quinn's Dance School in Biddulph Road, South Croydon. This was supposed to be the most difficult of all the ballroom dances but I did not find it so. It is definitely the best of the four main dances in my opinion, with the tango a close second.

Stella and Mavis were already in the hall waiting for the class to begin tonight's lessons. It was a great evening and would become moreso later on.

The class ended a bit later than usual with Jimmy Quinn and Patricia Teare demonstrating the finer points of the foxtrot. As everybody started to leave I latched on to Stella, ready to walk her home; it was only a short walk from the dance hall to her house in Brantwood Road, probably no more than 500 yards or so. Mavis accompanied us until we turned off the Brighton Road into Brantwood Road where she gave a wink and a smile as she said goodnight and went on her way.

As Stella and I strolled arm in arm up Brantwood Road she asked me when my birthday was and I told her the truth: 19th January. She waited, obviously wondering what birthday that would be. At this moment I made the stupid decision to tell a silly white lie. I said I was seventeen now and would be 18 in about 6 months time. Why I did this I still don't really know. Probably I thought that narrowing the age gap by a year or so would be somehow more acceptable to her. Anyway, I could not bring myself to admit I was a mere 16 year old; I just could not do that.

Stella seemed quite surprised when she heard my lie; obviously she assumed I was older than 17 but she merely accepted the situation. We arrived at her house which was situated opposite the South Croydon Recreation Ground, a pleasantly small parkland through which we would often stroll in days to come. We stood in the porchway of her house, just holding hands and whispering to each other so as not to disturb anybody in her house. And then I kissed her. Properly, this time, full on the lips that I'd longed to kiss ever since I first danced with her. Stella seemed to melt in my arms. I kissed her again and yet again. I now knew I was in love for the very first time.

Stella was thus my first love and the first love of one's life never fades. Other loves may come along but the first is so strong in one's psyche and one's soul as to be indestructible. It was thus for me and I'm sure it is the same for the majority of people.

This evening was the start of something totally new and bewitching for me. The way Stella responded it appeared to be reciprocated in much the same way. I had a fear of rejection when I first kissed her but that fear was unfounded. This evening would also be one of many where I lingered far too long with my first love; far too long so that I missed the last bus home.

Walking home, late at night, was something I got used to. It was a long way back to Kensington Avenue in Thornton Heath from Brantwood Road South Croydon! I would have to trek along the Brighton Road, past the Red Deer pub, then further on The Swan and SugarLoaf pub, along South End and into North End and the High Street. On and on passing Kennards on my left, Grants and Allders on the right, then the Eros and Odeon cinemas and across Station Road and past West Croydon Railway Station with The Fox and Hounds pub opposite. Pressing on, past Croydon General Hospital with The Co-op stores and West Croydon Methodist Church on the other side of the London Road. Soon I'd be passing Nova Road and my old Hathaway Road, with the Savoy Cinema opposite. Across St.James's Road and past the Star Pub and the Rising Moon, the road seemed endless - but I was walking on air and didn't mind at all. Next was Mayday Road and I knew it would not be too long before I came to Thornton Heath Pond, which to me in those 1951 days was like an oasis. Why an oasis? Because of old Joe's tea and sandwich stall at the Pond.

Joe and one assistant used to open his stall late in the evenings. I don't really know if he ever opened during the day as the only time I ever sampled his offerings were usually after midnight! Joe was an old salt, a sailor of years earlier who now served up tea and his speciality sausage sandwiches. This was all I ever bought from Joe's stall and both items were simply great. The tea was served in a half-pint mug and the sandwich was white bread with fried sausage-meat and brown sauce filling. Hot and delicious, just what this young late-night traveller needed to spur him on to the last leg of his homeward journey. Joe's little establishment was always busy whenever I arrived there yet his service was excellent; he must have been one of the first "fast food" outlets in those days. A big burly character, very friendly and efficient and obviously a popular watering hole.

After about ten or fifteen minutes enjoying Joe's wares I would continue on the last lap of my long walk home. I don't really know how many miles I had to walk back home but I guess it would be something around 6 miles or thereabouts. But I don't regret one yard of it.

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